It would be unwise to accept either Nicolás Maduro’s or Juan Guaidó’s narrative of this event at face value. But we do have this anonymous drone picture and others from above the Colombian side of the bridge (Colombia in the lower left corner) and there are many other photos and videos from different angles as well. The crowd is Venezuelan opposition, perhaps with some foreigners among them. In the upper right corner, in front of the Venezuelan border check point, there are security forces loyal to Maduro holding their line. Notice under the bridge the wreckage of Venezuelan government barricades that the opposition tore town and threw over the side. It’s not entirely clear who set the trucks on fire. What we do know is that the opposition lost. There were only a few desertions from the Venezuelan police and military forces. Mr. Trump and his subordinates misled gullible media and dozens of nations into expecting either an easy opposition victory or a catastrophic Maduro blunder. Those things did not happen.
The Trump administration and its creation, self-proclaimed acting Venezuelan president Juan Guaidó, have been terribly embarrassed. They announced their confrontation well in advance, brought expensive military resources to bear, staged a big media spectacle — and lost.
It was not remotely close. They will not force regime change on Venezuela without an invasion that would kill thousands of people.
Where does that leave the government of Panama, which by political statements and the use of Panamanian territory were full-fledged participants in the losing effort? Now this country is possibly vulnerable to irate militants who have reason to consider us an enemy nation and our canal a tempting target. So much for the neutrality defense. Varela squandered that to pander to the embattled blowhard US president.
None of them are likely to address the issue on the campaign trail, but it would be interesting to know what those with real chances to succeed Varela by winning the May elections would do to repair the damage. Trump’s reputation could hardly get much worse but Varela’s standing in the world has been seriously debased by this foolhardy adventure. With military escalation, it could get worse for both the United States and Panama.
Let’s not have a war in the region. Let’s not have a pathetic exiled pretender using Panama as a base of operations. Panama should step out of this Lima Group, expel Guaidó’s diplomats and conduct those sorts of proper if not so warm relations that Panama has had with many a flawed government that does, however, actually rule its country. In Washington the US House of Representatives, far from cheering for Guaidó, ought to cut funds for pretenses and belligerent pressures in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt.
All of which is not to say that Maduro is the nicest guy. He’s a problem — but a problem for Venezuelans and not outside powers to address.